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Many of us have limits both to how much time we can be away and also how much money we can spend on a vacation.

Planning any vacation necessarily involves compromises.

Here are some suggestions on what and how to compromise your own vacation planning for best overall results.

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How Much to Spend on a Vacation part 4

Don't overreach and use commonsense to balance between too much and too little expenditure

If you're on a cruise ship, it is probably not a good idea to choose the cheapest inside cabin on the bottom deck.  But perhaps it is also not necessary to get the largest deluxe suite on the top deck, either.

Finding the right balance is a key part of budgeting and planning your vacation.

Part four of a five part series on how to budget and plan for a vacation.  See also :

1.  An introduction to the philosophy of travel cost budgeting

2.  Understanding the true cost of your vacation and what this means

3.  Using the true cost figure and knowing when you should spend a little more on travel costs

4.  Balancing the time and cost of your vacation - how less can be more

5.  What quality level to choose, and the importance of including a special highlight in your vacation



You might be starting to think that we're advocating profligate extra spending in all parts of your vacation.  Not so!

We're advocating a careful balanced view to your vacation, encouraging you to recognize that sometimes a little more expenditure will increase the overall positive experience you're seeking.

But we temper these thoughts with an understanding that you can go overboard, and so point out that sometimes 'less is more'.

Balance Your Time and Money Constraints

Consciously or unconsciously, we all have to make some trade-offs in planning a vacation.  One of the biggest is that most of us have a reasonably fixed dollar budget for our vacation, and/or a reasonably fixed limit on the amount of time we can be away from home.

Within those two limiting factors though there is often an opportunity to trade-off between spending more days with a lower daily budget, or fewer days with a higher daily budget.  For example, maybe you can choose between 10 days at a $500/day total cost, or 12 days at a $415/day total cost, giving you a total $5000 travel budget (plus airfare) either which way.  Which is the better choice?

This is a very difficult question to answer without looking at specific examples, of course.  On the face of it, squeezing in two extra days by only a small reduction in your daily travel budget might be a good idea.  But it might also be a mistake - remember your ultimate objective is not to maximize your time away from home but rather to maximize your experiences, your memories, and to come back home refreshed, revived, and feeling positively good about the vacation you've just enjoyed.  Sometimes this can better be achieved with a shorter but 'better' vacation than a longer but substandard vacation.  Less can sometimes be more!

Let's consider the implications in the example above.  Maybe the $500/day comprises an allowance of $200 for a hotel, $125 for food and drink, and $125 for sightseeing and general expenditures.

How will you take $85 off your daily budget?  Maybe you take $40 off your hotel, $25 off the food and drink and $20 off the sightseeing?  But, think about this - you'll have changed hotel grades from a 'nice' hotel that you're comfortable in to one that has some quality/comfort compromises - and these compromises will become all the more objectionable because you'll be in the hotel for 12 nights rather than ten.  And your reduced sightseeing budget - $105/day - means that in 12 days you have almost the same exact budget for sightseeing ($1260) as you did for ten days at $125/day ($1250).  Meanwhile, you're going to be carefully watching your expenditures, and not eating/drinking as well as you otherwise would.

Plus, not included in the costing above is the hidden opportunity cost of two more days away from home and perhaps away from work.

Okay, you say, you won't cut back on the sightseeing.  But that means even bigger compromises on food and drink and/or on your hotel quality, and it means you're going to feel less 'indulged' upon your return home, while having 'spent' two extra days of precious vacation time.  This hidden cost - your limited number of vacation days (assuming you're not retired) is often the hidden part of the 'iceberg' that is your total travel budget.

It is of course possible to end up with a vacation that is too short and too whirlwind/rushed as well.

The best thing is to decide on a realistic time away, considering what you want to see and do, and then set a realistic cost per day budget.  If you end up with the total cost being too high, consider cutting back on your time away and the things you wish to do as well as trying to cut back on the cost of each item while you're on your vacation.  Which leads us to the next two points that are somewhat contradictory.

A Tempting Thought - Staying Another Day

So there you are, using our earlier example, already up for a $6670 vacation.  You might think, if you're spending that much already, it makes sense to stay another day.  Let's consider the cost/benefit implications of adding another day.

In terms of costs, you're adding another hotel night, food/drink, sightseeing, travel, and miscellaneous costs, plus probably using up another day of vacation.  Using the costs in Table 1, these total about $900 for one extra day.

In terms of benefits, you're getting another 24 hours at your destination.  Using the same time cost logic as in Table 2, you need to deduct 8 hours for sleep, 3 hours for basic things like eating, etc, and 3 hours for other low yielding time costs, leaving you with ten more quality hours.

So you're spending $90/hour for the extra day.  This is less than the $126/hour average for the preceding days, so it may make sense to consider adding another day, all other things being equal.

However, all other things are not always equal, and that leads to the next topic.

You Don't Have to See and Do Everything

A big problem many people encounter when planning their trip is 'featuritis'.  This takes the form of 'Well, if we go to this place, we have to go to that place too because they are so close' or perhaps 'If we're traveling all that way/spending all that money, we have to stay long enough to make it worthwhile'.

In both cases, and in other cases of creeping featuritis as well, the net result is that the vacation ends up being too lengthy and too costly, and so the travelers end up indefinitely deferring the trip they really want to take, while instead traveling somewhere less satisfying (or staying at home and not traveling at all).

You need to examine the assumptions which underlie an attack of featuritis.  The key thing to consider is that you don't need to see and do everything, and - yes - you can indeed always go back somewhere to see more of a place if you liked it sufficiently the first time.

An adage to keep in mind is 'The Excellent is the Enemy of the Good'.  Don't spend too many years of your life planning for an excellent vacation - instead consider taking multiple good vacations.

A real-life example

Consider these three different scenarios :

  • A couple go to Mexico

  • A couple go to Europe

  • A couple go to Australia

If you're going to Mexico, most people tend to go for a week or so, and will typically stay in one place.  Perhaps they'll travel to a resort on Mexico's Pacific Coast, or maybe to one on the Gulf of Mexico.

Mexico is a huge country, but people don't feel compelled to visit all of Mexico in a single visit.  If they want to see more of Mexico, they'll go back again for another visit.

Now, if you're going to Europe, people are less likely to spend just one week, and stay in just one place.  You'll probably go there for somewhere between one and two weeks.  Yes, of course some people go for longer (and a few people go for less) but most people travel to Europe for about ten days or so, and may visit one, two or perhaps three different countries.  Even though you're not staying in one place, like Mexico, you're also not seeing all of Europe.  This would be close to impossible - there are 27 countries in the EU alone, and many more that are not in the EU.  If you want to see more of Europe, you'll simply go back another time.

But, what about the couple going to Australia?  I've lost count of the number of times people have told me 'We've always wanted to go to Australia, but we don't have the time to see and do it all'.  These same people are happy going to see only one place in Mexico, or a handful of places in Europe, but then strangely assume that a trip to Australia requires them to see all (or at least most) of the country in a single visit lasting three or four weeks.  This is often because they feel Australia to be a very long way away, or very expensive to get to.

Both perceptions are wrong.  Yes, the flying time to Australia is more than the flying time to Europe, but the actual time on a plane is only part of your total travel time (which starts from packing your bags at home, driving to the airport, checking in, waiting for your flight, then at the other end, going through Immigration and Customs, waiting for your bags, and traveling on to your hotel, checking in and unpacking your bags).  What seems like a 'short' five - ten hour flight somewhere may actually cost you 15 - 20 hours of total travel time.

And so while a 14 hour flight to Australia is twice as much as a 7 hour flight somewhere else, the total travel time is perhaps 24 hours vs 17 hours and then all of a sudden, the extra 7 hours doesn't seem disproportionately all that much more.  It doesn't take twice as long to travel to Australia, it only takes one third extra time.

Besides which (depending on where you are at home) you might have fewer time zones to adjust and so less jet lag, enabling you to more quickly enjoy your time in Australia than if you traveled, eg, to Europe.

Maybe a ticket to Australia is twice the cost of a ticket to Europe.  Perhaps this is $500 more.  But what is $500 when considered with the total cost of your vacation?  And consider also that Australia is a less expensive country to vacation in than Europe - your hotels and meals will be lower in price - so the extra cost of the ticket will be at least partially offset by the savings in country.

I used to send countless couples to Australia on one week vacations to a single destination (typically Sydney) and ten day vacations to two destinations (typically Sydney and the Great Barrier Reef area around Cairns).  These people all had a wonderful time at an affordable time and monetary cost, and many of them would travel back to Australia again the next year to see and do more of it.  Isn't that a better strategy than delaying a visit to Australia for year after year?

Part four of a five part series on how to budget and plan for a vacation.  See also the other articles in this series :

1.  An introduction to the philosophy of travel cost budgeting

2.  Understanding the true cost of your vacation and what this means

3.  Using the true cost figure and knowing when you should spend a little more on travel costs

4.  Balancing the time and cost of your vacation - how less can be more

5.  What quality level to choose, and the importance of including a special highlight in your vacation


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Originally published 14 Nov 2008, last update 21 Jul 2020

You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.

Related Articles
Vacation Budgeting Strategies 1 - Introduction and Overarching Philosophy
Vacation Budgeting 2 - The True Cost of Your Vacation Time
Vacation Budgeting 3 - When to Spend a Little More
Vacation Budgeting 4 - Balancing Time and Cost Constraints
Vacation Budgeting 5 - Spending Enough
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